Apparently, during WWII, US Army historian S.L.A. Marshall made a diligent study of combat behavior amongst his fellow troops. His published conclusion was that a shocking 75% of American soldiers failed to immediately return fire when fired upon. His report and methodology were of course the subject of much controversy. But the question had been raised. What could America do to better prepare its' defense forces for the brutal reality of the actions required by a soldier?
Jeff Tietz, the author of the article, provides some background. He explains that:
I have mixed feelings about this. I really do have a dedicated and passionate allegiance to our nation and its freedom. I also have great respect and admiration for being 'the absolute best'. Maximizing potential. Protecting loved ones. Fighting for Freedom. Succeeding. Winning.
Before World War II, basic training sought to produce disciplined men, not killers. The closest you got to battle was shooting at bull’s-eye targets and bayoneting hay bales. Less than a year after Men Against Fire [the published report by Army historian Marshall], the Army began distributing a “Revised Program of Instruction” to its officers and drill sergeants. Marshall considered it essential to “free the rifleman’s mind with respect to the nature of targets”—to keep soldiers from thinking human before shooting.
On his recommendation, the Army began training recruits in “massing fire”—shooting at the types of inanimate cover they would see in combat: tree lines, embankments, ridges. It also began downplaying its standard exhortation “Kill the enemy!” and emphasized instead a rifleman’s responsibility to deliver his comrades from danger. “Protect your buddy!” and “Protect the integrity of your unit!” became common maxims.
The value of applied psychology soon became apparent: The firing rate during the Korean War rose to nearly sixty percent. In Vietnam it was ninety percent, and in the first Gulf War it reached ninety-eight percent. In Iraq, the number of soldiers who fail to fire is thought to be statistically insignificant. American forces never lost a major engagement in Vietnam, and they have not lost one since.
The Army now spends nearly $2 billion annually on basic training. It employs thousands of people: to invent virtual-reality environments, to calculate the maximum volume of information a recruit can absorb in fourteen weeks, to determine the emotional state in which recruits will most freely shoot at the human form, to discover how much punishment their bodies can take, to build mock urban battlefields that replicate mosque spires and the sound of a muezzin’s call to prayer. The Army’s infantry schools graduate nearly 20,000 soldiers a year. No institution in history has come close to training so many people to kill so effectively in such a short time.
But I also know you can go 'too far' with anything. The road to hell is, as they say, paved with 'good intentions'.
One of the most effective psychological techniques that our battle-trainers utilize is de-humanization. With Vietnam it was describing the enemy as 'gooks', not people. In Iraq, they're all 'rabid-terrorist-camel-jockeys' - and worse. The idea is that you want to create as much psychological separation between the enemy and your troops as possible. The less human your "enemy", the less problems you have managing your troops. Truth and reality go right out the window. The enemy is not comprised of fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, and innocent children. No, somehow, they are all nameless, faceless, entirely unconnected to the world you know, completely negligible, and most probably hell-bent on destroying your faithful batallion members, you, and everything you hold dear. This extends beyond the enemy army to the complicit neighbors, villages, families, and other sometimes unavoidable collateral damage that [presumably] should have and could have chosen not to support such inhuman evil in their midst.
I suppose this is one of the 'evils of standing armies' that our Founding Fathers warned against: the over-professionalization of warmaking, killing, and conquest. [As a side-note I was reading the Federalist Papers the other day and discovered a long argument about how any politician that wanted to could always cook up a good argument that the Union was in imminent danger from Spanish or British support of the disgruntled Indian tribes – and thus, disingenuously keep America in a constant state of needless war . . . perhaps times have not changed so very much.]
Don't get me wrong. When I decry the potential 'evils of standing armies' and our leaders 'going too far', it's not that I don't understand the need for a strong defense. It's just that I have often observed the maxim that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Also, from the Doctrine and Covenants: "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."
A strong national militia is indeed a dangerous power. The founders worried ceaselessly about this. It's a necessary component of a free and sovereign nation and yet that component is fraught with perilous downsides. In the Constitution they drafted (as well as in their writings) they labored diligently to provide checks and balances to these powers that seem to have been completely ignored in our current warmaking processes.
Anyways all of that, of course, brings me back to my Presidential candidate of choice and why I back him so fervently. Dr. Paul talks about Constitutional safeguards that have been neglected in our current conflicts. Ron Paul talks about the inherent humanity of each person in each sovereign nation and the "God-given" rights that we have all been granted.
Paul is not a simple pacifist nor is he soft on defense. He served in the armed forces as an Air Force surgeon and he was one of the first to support Reagan (and his talk of restoring America's defenses) out in Texas. Paul voted against the irrational conquest of Iraq, but he voted for going after al Queda who had taken responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. He still advocates going after bin Laden and questions our strange support of the military dictator (and Islamo-fascist nuclear rebel) Musharrif in Pakistan where bin Laden has - by most reports - taken up residence.
Paul is the only candidate I've heard who respects the wisdom of the Constitutional framers, who advocates limited and judicious use of our military powers, and who opposes our wholesale transformation into an angry 'pre-emptive' warmaking Empire who marches around the world and forces policing on cultures we don't care to even understand. Paul suggests that de-humanization itself is a weapon we should wield with much more caution. He suggests restraint, diplomacy, and a re-focusing of our defenses on defending our borders as opposed to Imperial conquests; he understands that our men and women in uniform should be treated with respect and well-taken care of as we choose our engagements in the world. Anything else is neither "support for the troops" nor "strengthening our defenses".
I've quoted before that First Presidency message from 1976 where President Kimball said "We are a warlike people, easily distracted . . . when threatened we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan's counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior's teaching. . ." The whole article is good for perspective and addresses many of the "False Gods We Worship", not just the militant ones, of course, but that part of his message seems particularly applicable to the political questions of today.
I believe it is time to regain perspective in the self-governance of our nation and its formidable powers. I also strongly believe Congressman Ron Paul is the most capable advocate of that cause in the running. So I look forward to voting for him February 5th. At any rate, I particularly like the perspective he has that the issues are far bigger than he is and – win or lose – they aren't going away.